As president pro tem and Judiciary chairman, Leahy has been tasked with shepherding immigration and gun control bills out of his committee in the coming weeks and months — both in regular order.
As president pro tem, Leahy is now involved in more leadership meetings than ever before, and the success of immigration and gun control is not without leadership influence. Both the No. 2 and No. 3 Senate Democrats, Richard J. Durbin and Charles E. Schumer, serve on the Judiciary Committee. Both have also spoken out on gun control and are members of bipartisan group of eight Senators working on an immigration overhaul. Leahy also has worked at length with the No. 4 Senate Democrat, Patty Murray, on the pending Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, which leaders hope to approve this week.
Of the two biggest pending issues, however, gun control seems to be much more complicated. Reid long has had ties to the National Rifle Association, and it’s widely believed that stricter measures, such as the assault weapons ban championed by Judiciary member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., face long, if not impossible, odds for passage.
But the assault weapons ban is a perfect example of the political and policy balance Leahy must maintain in committee: Does he facilitate its inclusion to give it a leg up on the floor, but possibly imperiling the bill on the floor? Or does he try to force the amendment fight onto the floor, where the provision is almost certain to die?
Reid has said he will allow a floor vote on Feinstein’s assault weapons ban, but neither Reid nor Leahy appears especially committed to expending political capital to help it pass.
Moreover, Democratic leaders and Leahy have not laid out a path forward on gun control, opting to hold a series of hearings first before beginning their work on legislative language, which sources say the panel would like to finish by month’s end. That would set up the month of March for action on immigration.
“I don’t know. I wish I knew. It’d be so much easier if I did,” Leahy said on C-SPAN last month, when asked what could pass the Senate. “I don’t know. I would hope we could close the gun show loophole. I should hope we could limit the size of magazines being sold. I would hope that we would have background checks that are the same for everybody and actually have some teeth in them.”
Immigration might be an easier haul for the committee, as sources close to the bipartisan working group suggested they would provide the panel with legislative language upon which to base a markup, although historically this has not guaranteed a swift or bipartisan passage through committee.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.